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5 key trends that point to the future of social media

5-key-trends-that-point-to-the-future-of-social-media-ahutchinson

Due to the ever-evolving nature of social media and digital marketing, one of the key topics of discussion is always what’s coming next. And of course, no one knows. As much as we’d love to be able to imagine that we have strong oversight and can make a fairly solid guess at where the next big ‘zig’ will be in social media’s development, no one, for example, could have predicted the massive rise of Snapchat and other such trends.

Or maybe that’s not true.

Mark Zuckerberg and Co famously offered $3 billion for Snapchat back in 2013, a price that was considered crazy at the time. And given that, maybe, by taking note of the attentions of Zuck and Co we can establish a predictive model of what’s coming next.

I mean, still, no one knows for sure, but given the latest trends, and by following the flow of Silicon Valley money, there are a few areas that are definitely picking up steam, and are likely to form the basis of the next evolution of the social age.

Here are 5 social media trends that you need to be paying attention to:

Trend 1: The Age of Algorithms

I know, Twitter’s algorithm is a disaster, it’s against everything that makes Twitter, Twitter. And Instagram too — how could they do this? Rumours have even started circulating that Snapchat’s algorithm bound. It’s frustrating for users because it takes some of the selection process out of their hands, and it’s frustrating for brands because they inevitably see their reach decline with every such shift.

But here’s the truth that not everyone knows, or wants to acknowledge:

Algorithms work.

How do I know? Take a look at this chart from Facebook’s latest earnings results – and note that Facebook implemented their News Feed algorithm in 2013.

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Oh yeah, I hear you say, but Facebook’s not a good example. They’re the biggest social media network in the world, of course they’ve continued to grow. Okay, what about this— the average time spent, per user, per day, on Facebook has increased from 38 minutes in 2013 to 50 minutes in 2016. That’s the average across all users, all 1.65b of them. And that’s with an algorithm in effect.

As noted by Facebook’s VP of Products for News Feed in a recent session, we now live in a world where there’s;

More and more information for us to consume every day, but only so much time we have in which to do that.

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This is most evident on Facebook, of course, these days almost every person you’ve ever met is on the platform — all those old school friends, workmates, people you met at some random party. This has lead to a massive influx of content  —and that’s before you even factor in any brands you follow.

Facebook’s mission is to provide users with the best, most relevant experience in order to keep them on platform for longer and keep them coming back for more. That’s how Facebook makes money, by serving you ads while you’re on Facebook — so it makes perfect sense that Facebook’s only objective with their algorithm is to deliver you more of the content you want to see, while ensuring you also don’t miss anything of relevance.

And as the above stats show, they’re doing a pretty good job of it. Over time, Facebook’s learning your preferences and filtering the noise to ensure your time Facebook experience is what you want. If they didn’t do this, your feed would be flooded with junk — you’d see everything from everyone, and you’d stop coming back.

This is the basis of all algorithms, and why all platforms are looking to implement similar.

But algorithms also, inevitably, penalize brand reach, because users have stronger connections with other people. Think about who you interact with on Facebook — do you more regularly Like posts from brand Pages or from your friends?

The system’s not built to deliberately penalize brands, but it does. That, of course, delivers additional benefits to Facebook, in that they can charge brands for reach, but it’s a side-effect, not the intent.

Still think algorithms are unfair or don’t work? Okay, here’s the counter argument — if there was no algorithm in place, brands would reach everyone who follows them. This would mean that brands who are really good at engaging with their social communities and are really active online — and who customers rave about and praise in their own posts and shares — would generate the same amount of organic reach as brands who just spam their followers with inspirational quotes and cat pictures all day long. Should that be how the system works?

Whether you like it or not, an algorithm system forces brands to learn about their target audience and create content which appeals to them – which, in turn, creates a better experience for their fans and fan communities.

If algorithms didn’t work, the platforms that implement them would die out because users wouldn’t stand for a sub-par experience.

In the age of increased social data and user-generated context, algorithms make perfect sense, and you can expect to see more of them, and to receive a more tailored, personalized, focussed social media experience on each platform as a result. The more aligned with your own preferences they can be, the better.

Get used to them, give feedback in the form of engagement, and work to improve your feed by telling the platforms what you like and don’t like. Your social media experiences will improve markedly as a result.

Trend 2: Video Evolution

Really, is it any surprise that video has become the fastest growing online communications tool?

TV’s always outpaced magazines and books in terms of time spent — because seeing something with your own eyes is the closest you can get to experiencing it yourself. Hearing about it is only using one of your senses — seeing images is only a snapshot. Watching something happen, for yourself, is truly powerful, and as such, the explosion of video is expected to continue to expand as mobile technology and network capacity also evolves in-step.

So what does that mean? You should be considering how you can connect via video. A significant part of the impetus behind the latest wave of live-stream applications is the capacity to share in the moment, to, again, share your experience with a wider audience. Live-streaming has the capacity to connect us to the rest of the world, in real-time, to get an entirely new perspective on how we live, on world events.

This was best illustrated in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks last year, when so many people switched to Periscope to get a feeling of what it was like on the ground that their server crashed due to overload. Such events showcase the true power of live-streaming, its capacity to connect us in ways we’ve never even thought possible — very soon, Mark Zuckerberg himself is going to conduct a live-stream with the crew aboard the International Space Station.

Again, it’s the capacity to share an experience that makes video powerful. And of course, that power is only going to be amplified when 360 degree video and virtual reality take hold. Both Google and Facebook are making big bets on VR, and while it’ll take some time to develop — particularly due to the high costs of purchasing a home system that can power VR effectively — that next evolution of video will take shared experience to the next level. The capacity of the option is almost limitless, it’ll have a transformative effect on how we consume media. In time.

Not yet, not even necessarily soon. But it’s coming. It’s something worth paying attention to.

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Google recently partnered with McDonald’s in Sweden to make Google Cardboard VR headsets available via re-purposed Happy Meal boxes (source: PC World)

But until then, video is where it’s at.

Reports have suggested that sharing of non-video content on Facebook is already declining due to audience preference for video material (and Facebook’s efforts to push video on their platform). If you’re not exploring video or considering your video options, it’s something you need to be looking at. There’s never been more video creation and publishing tools at your disposal, it’s worth experimenting to see what they can provide for your audience (and the next generation, who are already sharing 10 billion videos per day on Snapchat).

Trend 3: Speed = $

As technology advances, so too does expectation. No one uses a landline phone anymore, because why would you, you’ve got your phone in your pocket at all times. No one uses a map anymore, a Yellow Pages — a lot of kids these days wouldn’t even know what a Yellow Pages is.

Such evolution is also evident in social media and digital marketing. No one uses MySpace anymore because Facebook’s better.

That same mentality will soon come to the fore in terms of load times, particularly on mobile — why would you wait 8 seconds for an article to load when you can get it instantly?

This is the question Facebook’s pushing with their latest offering, called ‘Instant Articles’ — just as it sounds, an Instant Article loads instantly, saving valuable wait time for users (and giving people more time to consume more content on Facebook).

According to Facebook, the average load time for an external link, once clicked on Facebook, is 8 seconds. No big deal, right? Who cares about 8 seconds?

Logically, Facebook does.

Facebook currently has 989 million mobile daily active users. Now let’s say that each of those users is opening one link per day, at 8 seconds load time. The cumulative total wait time is about 250 years. Bit of a problem.

Obviously, from Facebook’s perspective, it’d be better if they could make things load faster, so they’re investing a lot into Instant Articles — and with hundreds of publishers already signed up, they’re seeing some great results, including 30% more shares of Instant content, 20% more Instant articles read, on average, and a reduction in reader abandonment rates of around 70%.

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That’s the good stuff. The bad? In using Instant Articles, publishers need to put significant control of their traffic — their key source of income — into the hands of Facebook.

You see, in order to make those articles load faster, publishers need to upload them to Facebook — so rather than have readers click a link back to your site, where you can post ads and sign-up forms and any other means of keeping them with your brand, the user actually stays on Facebook. Facebook’s been working hard to sweeten the deal for publishers to ensure they’re able to monetize Instant traffic in a comparative way to their own websites, but even so, the process puts you in the hands of Facebook. If they change their algorithm or decide to reduce your reach, that could be a problem.

The need for faster content load times is going to cause a significant shift in the online publishing landscape. While at the moment it makes perfect sense to drive more traffic back to your website, and to post content there, there may come a time where that decision isn’t as clear cut. Maybe it’ll make more sense to post on Facebook and stop driving traffic to your own blog. It’ll provide readers with a better experience, and IF the revenue rates are comparative.

The norms we’re used to in online content may be forced to change.

Of course, no one in their right mind would recommend doing this now — you should be publishing content on your own site and working to maximize traffic to your ‘owned’ properties. But in future, as the push for more speed comes into play, as Google gives preferential treatment to faster load times and the platforms look to offer more of their own content solutions, the question may not be so straight-forward.

The first major shift of digital publishing was from hardcopy press to digital. The next may be from owned properties to third parties, and all the related risks that entails.

Trend 4: Dataclysm

If you work in digital marketing or any related field, no doubt you’ve seen or heard this stat before:

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This figure’s been floating around for a couple of years now, but its impact is no less relevant today than it was when it was first revealed. A huge amount of the data and insights we have available to us now simply were not available ten, even five years ago. The growth of social media has lead to an influx of data, huge amounts of it flowing through every tweet, ‘gram and update being submitted online every day. There’s so much data that no one knows exactly what we’ll be able to do with it — it’s beyond our capacity to even comprehend how all this information can be correlated and calculated and used for benefit.

But it can indeed deliver significant benefits, for you, as an individual, for your company, for the world more widely. Twitter data, for example, is already being used to track earthquakes, manage flu outbreaks and predict crimes. Researchers have shown that Facebook data can be a greater predictor of your psychological leanings than your friends, your family, even your partner.

When you consider the range of ways that social data can be used, it’s almost impossible to imagine there not being ways that you can use those same insights to learn about whatever topic is of relevance to you or your business. The possibilities of data are unexplored, and are only limited by your own imagination (and time). But the capacity of that data to deliver personalized experiences to each and every person is amazing, and something that absolutely cannot be overlooked.

And it’s only going to expand — Google’s working on a wide range of smart home devices to change the way you interact with your every environment, Facebook’s developing artificial intelligence tools to monitor and assist with your every day-to-day task. All of these devices will mean more data, more insights, more ways to get a better understanding of pretty much everything we do, and why we do it.

If you’re not looking into how to use the data insights available via social, you’re missing out. The capacity is massive, the opportunities are huge. Data is what’ll lead to the next evolution of social media marketing and digital commerce.

More data = more understanding. More understanding = more focus.

And those with more focus on the necessary detail, win.

Trend 5. Expansion

And the last key trend in the evolution of social media and digital marketing is expansion. And by expansion, I’m referring to expansion of the networks themselves, the mission, being driven by both Google and Facebook, to ‘connect the world’ – which, in essence, also means connecting more customers.

It’s an element that’s sometimes overlooked in western nations, but the majority of the world is still not connected to the ‘World Wide Web’.

As per to Facebook’s internet.org website — which is part of The Social Network’s mission to connect these communities:

5 key trends that point to the future of social media

That’s a staggering amount. And while, in itself, it means a great many people are not able to access the information others can so freely, it also means there is a heap more potential in social media that hasn’t yet been realized.

For example, Facebook recently hit a major speed bump in their efforts to roll out internet access to remote regions of India, a move that would have connected an extra 1.06 billion people to the web. On one hand, Facebook’s mission is amazing and to be applauded for giving these people access, but the knock on Facebook’s program is that it prioritizes Facebook apps, and is controlled by Facebook, which obviously has a conflict of interest in which apps and functions it makes available to these new users.

However you look at it, the significance of expansion is that it has the capacity to connect billions more people to the internet, broadening the reach and potential of social media and online systems. While the impetus behind such efforts may well be philanthropic, there’s no denying that it’ll also deliver massive benefits for these tech companies — via internet.org, for example, Facebook’s already connected 25 million additional people to the web, a large majority of which now, no doubt, also use Facebook.

And as the tech giants look to expand their market share by increasing connectivity, so too does it expand our capacity to reach new markets and connect with new people, new corners of the globe.

That is a truly powerful element — if you think social networks are big now, wait until the rest of the world catches up and it’s a truly global community. In this sense, it’s important to recognize what social could become as our systems develop. The opportunities are likely beyond what anyone can imagine, as social will form the connective layer that links everyone together.

If you still think social’s not important, just wait. Wait until the rest of the world comes online and the very way we trade and deal with different markets shifts. Wait till China’s ‘Great Firewall’ comes down and new opportunities arise all over.

If you still think social’s not important, just wait. Sure, you could dismiss Snapchat as a fad and Twitter as nonsense. But that’ll change.

The next generation has never known a world without social, and it’s a crucial part of how they connect and interact. Ignoring that is dangerous. And it’s only going to become more so.

 

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